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Over the past 20 years, collaboration has become an essential aspect of archaeological practice in North America. In paying increased attention to the voices of descendant and local communities, archaeologists have become aware of the persistent injustices these often marginalized groups face. Building on growing calls for a responsive and engaged cultural heritage praxis, this forum article brings together a group of Native and non-Native scholars working at the nexus of history, ethnography, archaeology, and law in order to grapple with the role of archaeology in advancing social justice. Contributors to this article touch on a diverse range of critical issues facing Indigenous communities in the United States, including heritage law, decolonization, foodways, community-based participatory research, and pedagogy. Uniting these commentaries is a shared emphasis on research practices that promote Indigenous sovereignty and self-determination. In drawing these case studies together, we articulate a sovereignty-based model of social justice that facilitates Indigenous control over cultural heritage in ways that address their contemporary needs and goals.
This manuscript presents a novel approach to the study of contemporary material culture using digital data. Scholars interested in the materiality of past and contemporary societies have been limited to information derived from assemblages of excavated, collected, or physically observed materials; they have yet to take full advantage of large or complex digital datasets afforded by the internet. To demonstrate the power of this approach and its potential to disrupt our understanding of the material world, we present a study of an ongoing global health crisis, the COVID-19 pandemic. In particular, we focus on face-mask production during the pandemic across the United States in 2020 and 2021. Scraping information on homemade face-mask characteristics at multimonth intervals—including location and materials—we analyze the production of masks and their change over time. We demonstrate that this new methodology, coupled with a sociopolitical examination of mask use according to state policies and politicization, provides an unprecedented avenue to understand the changing distributions and social significances of material culture. Our study of mask making elucidates a clear linkage between partisan politics and decreasing disease mitigation effectiveness. We further reveal how time-averaged asssemblages drown out the political meanings of artifacts otherwise visible with finer temporal resolution.
Democratic cooperation is a particularly complex type of arrangement that requires attendant institutions to ensure that the problems inherent in collective action do not subvert the public good. It is perhaps due to this complexity that historians, political scientists, and others generally associate the birth of democracy with the emergence of so-called states and center it geographically in the “West,” where it then diffused to the rest of the world. We argue that the archaeological record of the American Southeast provides a case to examine the emergence of democratic institutions and to highlight the distinctive ways in which such long-lived institutions were—and continue to be—expressed by Native Americans. Our research at the Cold Springs site in northern Georgia, USA, provides important insight into the earliest documented council houses in the American Southeast. We present new radiocarbon dating of these structures along with dates for the associated early platform mounds that place their use as early as cal AD 500. This new dating makes the institution of the Muskogean council, whose active participants have always included both men and women, at least 1,500 years old, and therefore one of the most enduring and inclusive democratic institutions in world history.
In North America, the introduction of livestock as part of the Columbian Exchange had profound social and ecological consequences for cultural environments, yet the landscape impacts of these animals have been difficult to identify, particularly in the first decades of sustained contact. Between 1701 and 1775, at a Spanish colonial mission near what is today Nogales, Arizona, O'odham groups and Spanish missionaries generated land management practices that wove together the needs of domesticated animals and existing Indigenous farming practices. This study proposes a set of indicators to identify animal husbandry practices in both the archaeological and historical record. Faunal, isotopic, and historical analyses from Mission Los Santos Ángeles de Guevavi provide evidence that cattle ages were loosely monitored and that cattle were culled at an older age than optimal for meat and grease extractive strategies compared to other domesticated species at the site. These findings suggest a low investment strategy in cattle, which may have helped Indigenous groups continue aspects of precontact agricultural and gathering practices and preserve their communities in the colonial period. These findings provide further evidence of the depth of animal husbandry practices among Indigenous groups in the Southwest.
Great kivas served as important ritual spaces and played significant roles in community integration throughout the Pithouse period (AD 550–1000) occupation of the Mimbres Mogollon region of southwestern New Mexico. This article uses data from excavations at the Harris site, a large pithouse village located in the Mimbres Valley, to explore the role of great kivas and an associated plaza in community integration as the village grew, extended family households formed, and social distinctions developed. Data from excavations of sequentially used great kivas surrounding the plaza along with household data from domestic structures are used to examine the role of ritual space during the Pithouse period.
Recent research at Jaketown, a Late Archaic earthwork site in the Lower Mississippi Valley, suggests that the culture-historical framework used to interpret Jaketown and contemporary sites in the region obscures differences in practices across sites. As an alternative, we propose a framework focused on variation in material culture, architecture, and foodways between Jaketown and Poverty Point, the regional type site. Our analysis indicates that people used Poverty Point Objects and imported lithics at Jaketown by 4525–4100 cal BP—earlier than elsewhere in the region. By 3450–3350 cal BP, people intensively occupied Jaketown, harvesting a consistent suite of wild plants. Between 3445 and 3270 cal BP, prior to the apex of earthwork construction at Poverty Point, the community at Jaketown built at least two earthworks and multiple post structures before catastrophic flooding sometime after 3300 cal BP buried the Late Archaic landscape under alluvium. These new data lead us to conclude that the archaeological record of the Late Archaic Lower Mississippi Valley does not reflect a uniform regional culture. Rather, relationships between Jaketown and Poverty Point indicate a multipolar history in which communities selectively participated in larger social phenomena—such as exchange networks and architectural traditions—while maintaining diverse, localized practices.
Robert Heizer excavated Leonard Rockshelter (26Pe14) in western Nevada more than 70 years ago. He described stratified cultural deposits spanning the Holocene. He also reported obsidian flakes purportedly associated with late Pleistocene sediments, suggesting that human use extended even farther back in time. Because Heizer never produced a final report, Leonard Rockshelter faded into obscurity despite the possibility that it might contain a Clovis Era or older occupation. That possibility prompted our team of researchers from the University of Nevada, Reno and Desert Research Institute to return to the site in 2018 and 2019. We relocated the excavation block from which Heizer both recovered the flakes and obtained a late Pleistocene date on nearby sediments. We minimally excavated undisturbed deposits to rerecord and redate the strata. As an independent means of evaluating Heizer's findings, we also directly dated 12 organic artifacts housed at the Phoebe A. Hearst Museum of Anthropology. Our work demonstrates that people did not visit Leonard Rockshelter during the late Pleistocene. Rather, they first visited the site immediately following the Younger Dryas (12,900–11,700 cal BP) and sporadically used the shelter, mostly to store gear, throughout the Holocene.
Archaeologists see the value, if not the allure, of formation theory. Before inferring what happened in the past and why, we must know how the material record formed. Pottery is abundant and informative, therefore a common analytical subject. Understanding size and composition of ceramics assemblages requires formation theory, including knowledge of vessel use life. This fundamental quantity has two salient properties. The first—central tendency measured by mean or median—is widely acknowledged. Use life's second, equally important, property is the distribution of failure-age by specimen across assemblages. This article considers how and why both use-life properties affect size and composition of pottery assemblages. From a longitudinal ethnoarchaeology of household pottery in Michoacán, Mexico, it identifies vessel-size measures that correlate with use-life mean, and it demonstrates archaeologically innovative ways to characterize distributions that improve both analysis of assemblages and comparison between them.